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Why Jacob Weitering is clearly the AFL's best key defender

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Expert
27th May, 2021
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There is no key defender better than Jacob Weitering.

For some, it isn’t a big call and for others, it’s an outrageous suggestion. In fact, to consider that Carlton has the best young midfielder, key forward and key defender in the competition despite their current level of output is baffling.

Yet here we are, and it might even be the strange club tactic of one-on-one defence that helps solidify Weitering’s status atop the defensive tree.

It wasn’t always this way for the former number one draft pick, who was the target of criticism for a long while. Weitering has been a regular for most of his Carlton career, and was thrown forward for spurts early on, as well as being exposed to awkward situations defensively for a young, growing key position player.

Persistence was clearly going to be beneficial from a long-term perspective, but in the moment, the general football fan finds it difficult to separate themselves.

It seems ridiculous to think that Jacob Weitering is only 23 years of age. As the years have passed in his career and he has continued to grow, Weitering has continued to develop into arguably the sharpest two-way key position player around.

At draft time, it was thought that despite being 196 cm, he would be best used as an athletic intercept player with somewhat of a focus on rebounding. Of course, as the long-term ‘great white hope’ of the Blues, he was never going to be a peripheral figure on a flank and that’s proven to be the case quite quickly.

Concerns over a lack of top speed and inability to control the monster key forwards have well and truly been swept to the side with plenty of stellar performances.

Even against the Bulldogs, when Aaron Naughton and Josh Bruce got the better of Carlton, Weitering continued to show a resilience that highlights his maturity, winning one-on-one contests even with momentum against him.

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Jacob Weitering kicks.

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Truthfully, it’s his intelligence that gives him a significant advantage over his counterparts and ensures that he takes each contest as an individual action, which removes the validity of the concept of momentum from his mind. Weitering could face ten one-on-ones in a row and, while many others would struggle under immense pressure, the young defender remains calm and collected.

Carlton’s exposes their key defensive duo to more one-on-ones alone than some opposition teams combined. While Liam Jones is the fearless spoiler who only looks to play to his advantage, it’s Weitering who holds down the fort.

The key defender is quite incredible in his unique statistical impact.

Weitering averages 16.6 disposals, 6.4 rebounds and nine spoils per game, all elite. He is ranked above average for intercept marks (2.5), intercept possessions (8.1) and metres gained (361.5), with a contested possession rate of 46.3 per cent.

The only other key defender that can potentially fight for the title of best key defender in the game is Brisbane’s Harris Andrews, and both are a level ahead of Melbourne’s Steven May, Sydney’s Dane Rampe and Collingwood’s Darcy Moore.

Darcy Moore

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The latter has the most impressive highlight reel of any defender in the competition that entices people to believe he is elite, but the reality is he struggles in one-on-one contests and is very well covered by the perennially underrated Jordan Roughead.

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Each of these players have distinctive strengths that have made them some of the best in the competition in their own ways.

Andrews’ height and reach enable him to be a premier spoiling and intercepting threat, however, he has proven to be strangely susceptible in one-on-one situations, looking particularly sluggish when defending the lead this season.

May’s numbers are somewhat elevated by the fact he takes the bulk of Melbourne’s kickouts, although his precise kicking and ability to stay cool close to his defensive goal has been an absolute key to his team. The Demons’ gang defence has helped him out on more than a few occasions though, and in a pure contest against the big key forwards, others often have better reach over May.

The style Weitering plays with is a combination of both these players. The 23-year-old averages two more spoils and marks than Andrews, and his rebounding efforts are equal to those of Steven May.

Statistically, he is a far superior one-on-one defender than most of his competitors, with only Dane Rampe better, although he has been exposed to far fewer situations where he is lined up solely against the opposition’s best forward.

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Incredibly, Carlton is one of six clubs to concede over 90 points per game, despite Weitering’s heroics. That’s due to the gameplan suiting the player himself but leaving the rest of the team heavily exploitable in other key areas.

Lachie Plowman has been targeted and conceded the vast majority of goals alone, particularly in games against Collingwood and Essendon where his opponents got early opportunities. Only recently has the club decided to move Adam Saad deeper into defence, which has been long overdue given the former Bomber’s underrated ability defensively.

Adam Saad of the Blues celebrates a goal

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

On one hand, it is extremely disappointing that Carlton persists with a style that has been far from fruitful, although it does allow their star to shine.

Without Weitering, there is little doubt the Blues would be at least two to three goals worse off per game.

The excellent numbers on both sides of his coin have seen Carlton able to become more efficient when Weitering gets the ball in his hands. Carlton are the second-best team in the league for metres gained per game, second for one-percenters and sixth for intercepts. Last season, the Blues were seventh in metres gained, tenth in one percenters and seventh for intercepts.

They’ve conceded similar numbers in contested marks and marks inside 50 to the opposition, but Weitering’s numbers are astronomical and clear career-highs that have been directly impactful on his opposition.

The truth of the matter is that key forwards aren’t tearing apart the Blues, and when they do, they’re anomalies.

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Instead, it’s Carlton’s inability to provide a strong whole-ground defensive transition from the midfield and forward group that is entirely necessary when the defenders themselves are accountable for their own actions.

Forward 50 tackles are well down on last season compared to the rest of the competition, as are tackles in general, which means the opposition has the ability to waltz their way out of defence and put together an effective transition.

Carlton’s mediocre defensive output could be the competition’s worst if they didn’t have arguably, the best key duo in the competition.

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Weitering is not only the leader of the backline, but clearly the future leader of the football club. At just 23 years of age, he has taken Carlton on his back and like some greats of the club, has developed his game into one that is as effective offensively as it is remarkable defensively.

It’s clear that Weitering is just scratching the surface of the entire package, which is terrifying to consider. We are in a golden age with plenty of gun defenders playing roles against the burgeoning offensive talent being produced across the league.

And while plenty of names are often thrown around as the best, it’s this sixth-year player that takes the crown.

Unassuming yet decisive, we are dealing with a generational talent that will seemingly only been seen as such when Carlton becomes a successful team.

In the modern era, Geelong had Matthew Scarlett and Richmond had Alex Rance. The Blues now have the best key defender in the competition, and Jacob Weitering will be one of their greats.

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